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Heart transplant pioneer dies

NICOSIA, Cyprus (CNN) -- Heart transplant pioneer Dr. Christiaan Barnard died Sunday.

Barnard, 78, died in his hotel room in the southwest coastal town of Paphos, said Dr. Maro Svana, a spokeswoman for Paphos General Hospital.

He was taken from the hotel in an ambulance to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 1 a.m. (6 p.m. Saturday EDT), she said.

An autopsy will be performed Monday.

In a five-hour operation at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1967, Barnard replaced the diseased heart of Louis Washkansky with that of a woman in her mid-20s who had died in a car accident.

Washkansky died 18 days later of double pneumonia, the result of his suppressed immune system.

But the surgery represented a milestone, and propelled the South Africa surgeon, then 45, to acclaim.

"On Saturday, I was a surgeon in South Africa, very little known," he recalled years later to a documentary producer. "On Monday, I was world renowned."

In 1969, he told Time Magazine: "It is infinitely better to transplant a heart than to bury it to be devoured by worms."

Arthritis forced him to give up surgery, and he went on to write books, including a medical text and several novels.

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